I have searched the world over for community and come to the conclusion that it cannot be fully found in one place or group. The contentment we search for is a spiritual quest found on a journey inward to the home where the heart is.
Last evening in a group of friends, all in our seventies, we talked of our common longing for connection with others. There was a time in all of our lives when we could recall deep bonds of friendship. That ‘gold standard’ seemed long gone and not replicable. But we searched for it anyway. Paradise lost never quite became paradise regained. Those days were often way back in our college years.
My deepest friendship bonds were in my twenties and thirties where factors like parenting, graduate school, sporting activities, and my then religious involvement bound my life with that of others. But all this fell apart when I graduated, got divorced, and migrated to the USA.. Being disconnected with our country of origin is a common challenge for most immigrants. And while assimilation to the USA way of life comes quite easily we are always strangers in a foreign land.
A few weeks ago one of wife’s friends asked me “Do you have friends in whom you can confide? “I had to confess that this is not fully found in one person.
What happened? We now live in a small village where everyone seems to know everyone else’s business. We also attend more social gatherings than ever before. Even with those contacts the social bonds consistently fall short of my somewhat idealized expectations. All in all, even after four years in this location I feel somewhat disconnected. I suspect that is true for most people no matter where they live.
Many studies indicate that personal happiness is correlated with a person having strong community bonds. But why does this happen less often than we think? Why are the suburbs some of the loneliest places on earth? Why do people describe their workplace as their family? I realize that there are factors that interfere with community formation like our frequent home relocation, differing personal and cultural interests, extremely busy lives, and varying expectations of what we want from community.
Maybe it is impossible to experience true community whatever that is. This dilemma reminds me of the ditty
To live above with those we love
Oh that will be glory.
But to live below with those we know
That’s a different story.
But I do not want to end on a pessimistic note.
What I’ve come to realize is that we are searching in the wrong place. The solution is by us going inward before we venture outward.
Finding the right group of people is not the solution to my inner restlessness. Why do I say this? Well the evidence is very clear. People, including myself, are pulling up roots all the time for one reason or another. They then move on to the village or town de jour where all the ‘cool’ folks are migrating and report that it is a great place to live. We’ve done that several times with the same result.
So after a long downer prompted by the”no close friends” and “you are an outsider” or “what’s wrong with me?” tale of woe (unadulterated self-pity and ego preoccupation on my part of course), there was a more obvious solution.
Go inward. Experience my inner essence and that of others.
The key to real community is in my pocket not that of others. It occurs when I make the choice to see a person’e inner essence, appreciate our oneness, and love what I see, it is then that I experience the oneness that is the ground of community.
I guess that is what “loving your neighbor as yourself” is all about. That is the place of rapproachment, genuine human connection, and the building block of community.